Paysite Power: Hype or the Next Big Thing?

As we start anew in 2015 and kick off what will no doubt be an eventful and exciting year for adult businesses we can expect the same old year/new-year discussions of trends and the “next big thing” as people try to figure out how to get rich or stay rich.

My prediction is that the next big thing is … drumroll please … nothing. That’s right. As lackluster and anticlimactic as it can possibly be, my expert prediction is that the next big thing will be nothing but a gigantic ball of hype.

When you start hearing about something with increased frequency like we’re starting to with things like cloud and responsive designs, it means we’re somewhere in the range of two to three years before it becomes standard.

Something seldom discussed in our industry is the stark contrast between standards and trends. Trends come and go. Standards remain, sometimes for several years or more.

For a while the next big thing will be little more than hype. The upside is that most of the buzz you’ll see or have been seeing on boards or magazines can safely be ignored. You can educate yourself about it and will be wise to do so but don’t worry about implementing it or putting a whole lot of your resources into it for another two to four years. No, that wasn’t a typo on the part of XBIZ — I said two to four years. The downside is that knowing what’s important enough to act on sooner can be challenging and at times downright confusing.

I’ve seen a lot of trends come and go and over the last 10 years. I bought into the hype for different reasons. At times I was even the victim of modern-day snake oil salesmen. Sometimes we got caught up in someone else’s vision or profitable speculation. Other times we had bad timing and mistakenly believed something was going to hit long before it did. Other times we got caught up listening to customers who were perhaps a bit too forward thinking. And sometimes we just want to win the penis contest by swinging our technical dick around and being first. More than once I’ve walked the walk and put my money where my mouth is. And more than once I later wished I’d gone to Vegas instead and drawn a big crowd as I dropped it all on a single hand of blackjack. The gamble might have paid a bigger dividend.

At any point in time the hype you’ll hear will vary. You’ll hear a lot for a while and then it will fade. It’s the normal ebb and flow of new things people are trying to force to be relevant before they actually are. Those pushing it hard are the ones selling it, keep that in mind. Some of the things we’ve already begun hearing more about and will continue to have pounded into us contain cool sounding words like coin and micro and 4K and responsive and cloud. Some will be fads, others will remain trends that will stick and become standards in about two years. At the tail end of the four-year point is when your online business will be behind the times if you don’t have them — or whatever comes out before then that might be better.

To give you an idea of how convoluted trends are, I spoke on a panel at last year’s XBIZ 360 show titled “The Next Web,” and “4K” and “virtual” and “hologram” were words thrown around in the same conversion. We were discussing near future and distant future as if they were even remotely within the same timeframe. On that panel I was the naysayer and spoke much of the same stuff I’m speaking in this article about hype and trends and standards.

After 10 years of technical product development and 10,385 paysite CMS software technical support tickets as of Nov. 28, 2014, I’ve become pretty good at understanding trends.

Here’s a brief history of some of my own experiences:

In 2004 when we began creating the Elevated X CMS we opted for XSL as the template language. Back then our market was high budget big time studios and cash programs and we assumed that considering the adult industry’s long standing reputation (an absurd fallacy) as a technological leader. XSL was used by the highest traffic sites online, fortune 500 company sites, big mainstream media sites, that kind of thing. To us it made sense. To the adult industry, it didn’t. XSL was superior, it was powerful, it was also too technical. We overshot. Big time.

Four years later we switched to Smarty at a time when our inclination was to switch to PHP based templates. Everyone we talked to including customers, designers and developers said they preferred Smarty. It was a huge hit for us and kept things rolling strong for another four years until we began crying inconsolably and banging our heads against the wall ... people no longer wanted Smarty, now they wanted PHP so next as a sad bit of irony, we’ll roll out PHP based templates.

Around the same time in 2008 we introduced a mobile paysite setup and spent a bunch of money hiring a PR person and going to industry trade shows to promote it at a time when “mobile” was all the hype. After several months the writing was on the wall. We kept the functionality but stopped marketing it. Almost no one was interested in mobile for two full years. We sat quietly and waited and in 2010 we began to see more interest in mobile. In 2013 after three years had passed, more interest in tablet and cross platform and multi-device optimization. Suddenly stuff we had developed four-five years earlier was relevant. I had to wait almost four years to see the ROI on mobile development.

It was also around the same time that we decided to abandon FLV and implement use of MP4 exclusively on our product demo site since after all, Flash was already antiquated and on its way toward being obsolete. Emails poured in immediately from people who looked at our software demo and asked if the product will convert videos to Flash format. Within days we added Flash video back into the system defaults and it remained for about 3 more years before it was finally “safe” for us to remove it once and for all. This didn’t cost us anything but is a good example of being too eager to move on something too soon.

In 2010 after many months of development, we were also way too early to market with VOD, nearly five years too early this time in fact. At a time when the only vendor offering on demand software was ObjectCube (which came at a cost of thousands) Elevated X was the only commercial CMS product offering paysite owners VOD options and we did it at a flat rate of $100/month. No one wanted it. It was a huge financial loss and very disappointing but proved to be another valuable lesson.

At some point when every monitor has a retina based display, all images not sized accordingly will appear soft and fuzzy. At this time probably 99 percent of adult sites don’t look as good as they could on retina displays. We added support for retina images about two years ago. No one cared then and they still don’t care. In 2015 it’s likely that we’ll implement even further support for retina images so any paysite using Elevated X has crystal clear content. No one cares, but we think it’s cool so we’re doing it.

What we’ve learned is to not listen to the noise. We ignore the buzzwords and the buzzards and paysite owners should as well. Pay attention to standards, not to hype. Paysite customers respond to standards, not to newly emerging trends at the first 30 percent of their lifecycle. This is why we’re not clamoring to implement things like cloud support or responsive designs. We do make use of a responsive template for mobile and tablets but we’ve learned to move in increments — on a pace just moderately ahead of emerging standards — not trends.

You might be wondering what the point is of my sharing all of this with you. I want you to take something away from this article based on the lessons I’ve learned. First and foremost, adopting trends too early is costly. It will cost you time and money you will never get back. It’s wasteful. We’re not a tech business like computers or cell phones where being ahead in this area leads to higher profits. Some things will hit sooner than others even though they’re still far off becoming standards.

4K may be the best example of this as the codec support (H.265) isn’t there just yet, 4K blu-ray hasn’t shown up yet, the only devices that show 4K are either expensive monstrosities like the Sony FMP X10 Digital multimedia receiver, or built into the TVs themselves for Netflix. DirecTV won’t deliver 4K until 2016. Netflix won’t even do 4K on the new, shiny Retina 5K Mac and that alone has technophiles everywhere crying themselves to sleep at night. And even if the prediction that 40-60 percent of TV panels will be 4K in 2016, people keep TVs long enough that 4K penetration will remain much smaller for a very long time. Yet despite all of this, we will, without a doubt, see magazine articles and forum posts that hype 4K. Is it worth shooting content in 4K? Yes — because the content will be useful, longer. For delivery or much benefit to customers, not so much. At least not yet.

Obviously part of why producers, site owners and webmaster push to implement these new features well before they become largely beneficial is to differentiate themselves from other sites and stand out from a sales and marketing perspective. If this works for you, have at it but my suggestion is to conduct an audit based on current standards, not trends.

Where you want to be today is up to standard with what leading sites are doing, not ahead of them from a technical perspective. When you start hearing about something with increased frequency like we’re starting to with things like cloud and responsive designs, it means we’re somewhere in the range of two to three years before it becomes standard. Standard means commonplace, e.g. things customers expect and that a site or product is obsolete without. Think of standards as a tipping point.

We’re fortunate that our industry is one that’s forgiving, unlike many others where failing to keep up with a frantic pace of technological advancement leads to failure. Most paysites can go a few years between major overhauls if small improvements are made consistently over time.

To me it’s a lot like maintaining a vehicle or a home. If you keep up on routine maintenance you can often go longer before you need something major. It’s with neglect that big problems crop up in bunches. Paysites are the same. If you work toward maintaining standards, you’ll be on the heels of today’s trend hype when it becomes standard a couple years down the road.

If you found this article useful and would like a quick audit of your site to see how it stacks up against what’s current based on today’s standards, email me at aj@elevatedx.com.

AJ Hall is a 14-year adult industry veteran and CEO of Elevated X Inc., a provider of popular adult site CMS software. Hall has spoken at industry trade shows and is a contributing writer for several trade publications. Elevated X software powers more than 2,000 leading adult sites, has been nominated for more than a dozen industry awards and won the 2012 and 2014 XBIZ Award for Software Company of the Year.